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An Environmentalist's Wish List for 2008

by Rich Kassel, Jan 07, 2008
 

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The start of the New Year presents us with a great opportunity to take stock of the old year and to plan for the new. It's also time to make some wishes.

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2007 brought some game-changing environmental events in New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced PlaNYC2030, which set out to bring greenhouse gases and congestion pricing to the city. Governor Eliot Spitzer released his proposal to implement the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to reduce carbon emissions to 13 percent below 1990 levels by 2019. The state legislature passed, and the governor signed, the New York Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act, a new law that, for the first time, requires agencies to work together to promote the sustainable use and protection of New York’s ocean and Great Lakes ecosystems.

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There are a ton of details and work to be done to implement all of these programs (and others that I didn’t mention). But New Yorkers can be thankful that their city and state took such major steps.

AND NOW WHAT?

Much remains to be done. So, as we head into the new year, here is my list of wishes.

PlaNYC 2030

While the wish list extends beyond PlaNYC2030, the mmayor’s incredibly ambitious proposal with 127 different housing, transportation, energy, open space and other initiatives still offers a fine starting point. Most of the goodies in it don’t require Albany's approval to move forward. But the cornerstone of the plan is congestion pricing -- charging people to drive into or around parts of Manhattan during the workweek. Implementing this system will be important to reduce traffic, improve air quality and raise funds for critical transit infrastructure investments throughout the region. And, if it works here, congestion pricing is likely to be adopted in other cities that are struggling with increased traffic and unmet infrastructure needs. Congestion pricing, though, does require approval in the state capitol as well as by the City Council.

My 2008 wish: The city and Albany should cut their deals, make their compromises and enact a congestion pricing plan emerges that raises even more net revenue for transit improvements than the mayor’s original proposal.

Transit Funding

If New York City gains another million residents, as the 2030 plan anticipates, it will need the transit infrastructure to get them around the city. And that means more than the East Side Access for the Long Island Rail Road riders, the Second Avenue Subway and the extension of the 7 lines -- as important as all three projects are. It means more service for all five boroughs — service and service that reflects the development patterns of the future, rather than the commuting patterns that existed decades ago when the IND and IRT were built. It also means fixing the chronic under-funding of the system from Albany (we have 84 percent of the state’s transit riders, but get only 63 percent of the state transit funding).

My 2008 wish: In addition to implementing the congestion pricing program, the city and the state shouldwill find ways to increase their funding contributions to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s five-year, $32 billion capital program that will be presented next March. And I hope that they do it in a way that doesn’t add more burdens to the already taxed (in more ways than one) straphangers.

E-Waste

Old televisions and computers contain a slew of toxins (including lead, mercury and cadmium) that should never get buried in landfills or burned in incinerators. But the city’s current electronics recycling program requires people to lug their electronics to odd locations on random days. No wonder most New Yorkers throw this stuff in the trash.

My 2008 wish: The city should adopt Intro. 104, the “Electronics Collection, Recycling and Reuse Law,” which would require manufacturers to take certain electronic products back for recycling after consumers are done with them. Not only would this help take toxics out our waste stream, but it also will save money for the city by reducing the burden on the city's Department of Sanitation and keeping some garbage out of landfills.

Stormwater and Sewage Overflows

Every year, roughly 27 billion gallons of untreated sewage gets mixed with stormwater runoff, and ends up bringing pathogens and other pollution into the city’s waterways. These combined sewer overflows put the public’s health at risk, damage our marine ecology and frequently make our waters unsuitable for recreational activities. Over the long haul, PlaNYC 2030 boldly aims to remake the urban landscape by keeping sewage and polluted stormwater out of our waters. But, in the short run, we need legislation to help us reach this goal.

My 2008 wish: The City Council should pass three bills (Intros. 628, 629 and 630) that, collectively, would help ensure that future administrations follow through on PlaNYC 2030’s ambitions. Together, the bills call for a sustainable stormwater plan for each of the city's waterways; mandate that new city capital projects use environmentally friendly technology and take stormwater issues into account; and require trees to be planted to help absorb stormwater before it goes into the sewage system.)

Jamaica Bay

One of the great things about New York is its proximity to amazing outdoor environments. Here’s a great example: Jamaica Bay, home to the only federal wildlife refuge accessible by subway, sits right under the flight path to Kennedy airport. This gem hosts nearly 20 percent of North America’s bird species each year, along with an amazing array of fish and shellfish. But Jamaica Bay is jeopardized by water pollution — most dangerously, nitrogen pollution from four city wastewater treatment plants.

My wish for 2008: Six years ago, the stars aligned to create an ambitious pollution fighting plan for Long Island Sound. The state Department of Environmental Conservation should adopt a comparable plan to protect Jamaica Bay for generations to come.

And one final wish: As environmentalists and other concerned New Yorkers work for these goals, may we all have a safe, clean, green and great 2008.

Rich Kassel, who writes Gotham Gazette's environment page, is a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), where he focuses on urban air pollution and transportation issues. He also chairs the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional transportation advocacy organization and blogs on a variety of environmental issues on the NRDC Switchboard.

Because of a typographical error during editing, this article originally had an incorrect number for the MTA capital programs. The correct amount for the five-year program is $32 billion.

 


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